A strange but lavishly imagined tale of a hard-to-describe feeling.

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REINHARDT'S GARDEN

A wealthy eccentric travels through Europe and South America hunting for the nature of melancholy.

Haber’s debut novel (Deathbed Conversions: Stories, 2008) concerns Jacov Reinhardt, a Croatian-born heir to a tobacco fortune who has a bottomless appetite for cocaine and an intense compulsion to understand “that most elusive of emotions: melancholy, not a feeling but a mood, not a color but a shade...an enigmatic realm.” Is Jacov on a valid intellectual pursuit or a cokehead’s crackpot adventure? Like the mood itself, the novel stakes a kind of middle ground, but that’s an asset: The story is contemplative yet open to absurdity. The book opens in 1907 in the jungle outside of Montevideo, Uruguay, where Jacov and his assistants (including the narrator) are hunting for a scholar of melancholy who reputedly lives in the region. But the narrator soon leaps into the past, recalling his 11-year relationship with Jacov, encompassing Jacov's experiences of losing his twin sister at 9 years old, a stint in a sanitarium, a detour into Stuttgart (where he constructed a castle “that evokes the unfulfilled longing of life"), and a trip to Russia to, basically, stalk Leo Tolstoy. With a philosophical bent and nary a paragraph break, the novel evokes Gertrude Stein, contemporary European and South American writers like Matthias Énard, Roberto Bolaño, and César Aira, with the Quixotic atmosphere of Werner Herzog films like Fitzcarraldo. Regardless of influence, it’s broad-minded, intellectual stuff but not oppressively so; the story is rich with stemwinders on the intersection of melancholy with lust, religion, debauchery, and more. Is Jacov mad? At least a little, especially once the truth about that scholar of melancholy becomes clear. But in form and language, his story entertainingly evokes the mood it’s chasing: interior, mercurial, implacable.

A strange but lavishly imagined tale of a hard-to-describe feeling.

Pub Date: Oct. 1, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-56689-562-0

Page Count: 168

Publisher: Coffee House

Review Posted Online: July 15, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2019

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Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

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THE VANISHING HALF

Inseparable identical twin sisters ditch home together, and then one decides to vanish.

The talented Bennett fuels her fiction with secrets—first in her lauded debut, The Mothers (2016), and now in the assured and magnetic story of the Vignes sisters, light-skinned women parked on opposite sides of the color line. Desiree, the “fidgety twin,” and Stella, “a smart, careful girl,” make their break from stultifying rural Mallard, Louisiana, becoming 16-year-old runaways in 1954 New Orleans. The novel opens 14 years later as Desiree, fleeing a violent marriage in D.C., returns home with a different relative: her 8-year-old daughter, Jude. The gossips are agog: “In Mallard, nobody married dark....Marrying a dark man and dragging his blueblack child all over town was one step too far.” Desiree's decision seals Jude’s misery in this “colorstruck” place and propels a new generation of flight: Jude escapes on a track scholarship to UCLA. Tending bar as a side job in Beverly Hills, she catches a glimpse of her mother’s doppelgänger. Stella, ensconced in White society, is shedding her fur coat. Jude, so Black that strangers routinely stare, is unrecognizable to her aunt. All this is expertly paced, unfurling before the book is half finished; a reader can guess what is coming. Bennett is deeply engaged in the unknowability of other people and the scourge of colorism. The scene in which Stella adopts her White persona is a tour de force of doubling and confusion. It calls up Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye, the book's 50-year-old antecedent. Bennett's novel plays with its characters' nagging feelings of being incomplete—for the twins without each other; for Jude’s boyfriend, Reese, who is trans and seeks surgery; for their friend Barry, who performs in drag as Bianca. Bennett keeps all these plot threads thrumming and her social commentary crisp. In the second half, Jude spars with her cousin Kennedy, Stella's daughter, a spoiled actress.

Kin “[find] each other’s lives inscrutable” in this rich, sharp story about the way identity is formed.

Pub Date: June 2, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-525-53629-1

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Riverhead

Review Posted Online: March 15, 2020

Kirkus Reviews Issue: April 1, 2020

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ANIMAL FARM

A FAIRY STORY

A modern day fable, with modern implications in a deceiving simplicity, by the author of Dickens. Dali and Others (Reynal & Hitchcock, p. 138), whose critical brilliance is well adapted to this type of satire. This tells of the revolt on a farm, against humans, when the pigs take over the intellectual superiority, training the horses, cows, sheep, etc., into acknowledging their greatness. The first hints come with the reading out of a pig who instigated the building of a windmill, so that the electric power would be theirs, the idea taken over by Napoleon who becomes topman with no maybes about it. Napoleon trains the young puppies to be his guards, dickers with humans, gradually instigates a reign of terror, and breaks the final commandment against any animal walking on two legs. The old faithful followers find themselves no better off for food and work than they were when man ruled them, learn their final disgrace when they see Napoleon and Squealer carousing with their enemies... A basic statement of the evils of dictatorship in that it not only corrupts the leaders, but deadens the intelligence and awareness of those led so that tyranny is inevitable. Mr. Orwell's animals exist in their own right, with a narrative as individual as it is apt in political parody.

Pub Date: Aug. 26, 1946

ISBN: 0452277507

Page Count: 114

Publisher: Harcourt, Brace

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 1946

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